The new Moyross Youth Academy has been officially opened at a launch event featuring Minister of State David Stanton and several former Moyross youth programme participants.

In 2014, problems were found in the roof structure of one of the most important youth projects in Moyross. The need for repairs provided an opportunity for the voluntary board managing the facility to completely redesign the building and redevelop the project.

And so, four years later, on 29 June, the new Moyross Youth Academy (MYA) and its multimillion-euro facility at the Bays, Moyross, was officially opened.

Over a hundred people hugged the walls or massed beneath umbrellas for shade at the launch by Department of Justice and Equality Minister of State David Stanton and Limerick Mayor Stephen Keary.

Minister Stanton began by praising four young people who spoke before him about how the project had been a catalyst for change in their lives.

“To be able to stand up here and speak like you did is fantastic, but to be able to do it with such confidence, courage and honesty is amazing. Your stories should be told to every young person in the country ­– and to older people as well,” he said.

He also said he was “really impressed” with the new building, “and by the sense of energy and commitment that I get from the staff working here and of self-confidence of former participants”.

The minister said he was “committed to supporting this work and to doing more at an earlier stage”.

“The state and all its agencies need to focus more on earlier intervention and on sustained long-term support for communities and families under pressure, and this is a priority for me in my role as Minister of State responsible for youth justice,” he said.

A humble origin

MYA was initially run by volunteers in the early 1990s. It operated for two decades out of cold warehouses designed for manufacturing companies that never materialised. Today, it employs 26 staff providing training, mentoring and education to over 100 young people. It remains rooted in the community.

“When you see people – who came to us because it gave them a chance in life – returning here as adults to tutor others, you know you’ve turned a corner,” said Elaine Slattery, manager of Céim ar Chéim, a probation project that is now part of the MYA.

“Young people are now emerging with skills, self-belief and confidence that was not so apparent even a decade ago,” she said.

“The investment in young people is having a visibly positive influence on communities across Limerick. We see it in the greater confidence young people have in themselves,” said Dave Mulcahy, who has been involved in the project since its early days. He is currently chairperson of the Garda Youth Diversion Project, also part of the MYA.

“[These young people] are achieving standards that virtually guarantee them employment in the future. They are doing their communities proud and helping to destigmatise the area,” added Slattery.

A broad scope

Some of the services provided by the MYA, including a highly regarded equine project, reach out to youths across the city.

“We want to continue to expand our reach, particularly in the area of improving employability,” said Mulcahy.

Andrew O’Byrne of Moyross Development Company, established in 1993, said, “It has taken 25 years to get to this stage, and there is more to do. With the right support and through partnership, we see fantastic scope to expand this facility and the service”.

One such partnership has been with Peter McVerry Trust, the national housing and homeless charity. Pat Doyle, the Trust’s CEO, said they were delighted to work with MYA to help create employment and training pathways for young people in Limerick. The Trust funds and supports an MYA social enterprise initiative that produces furniture for the charity’s social housing units.

Slattery said: “We’ve always been open to challenging ourselves and to continually changing. We’ve grown with the young people here.”

The project she manages, Céim ar Chéim, has gone from providing basic QQI level 2 and 3 at the beginning to providing leaving cert applied and third-level support.

A wider impact

“Compared to other EU member states, Ireland actually has a very good story to tell in the area of youth justice. We have comparatively low numbers of children in care or in detention. But the challenge is always to identify what more we can do and what new approach we can take to diverting children and young people from crime and anti-social behaviour,” she said.

Dean Quinn is an outreach staff member who, as a youngster himself, benefitted from the training and mentoring provided by MYA.

“In launching this project, it’s timely to ask people to think twice before they label communities negatively. Look at the facts first. Communities mature and move on, but sometimes the reputation they once had lingers,” he said.

“It’s time for the public to recognise that a new Moyross is emerging. One that is smaller, for sure – we’ve suffered depopulation – but this brings a necessary opportunity to respond innovatively and creatively to the young people that remain, so as to be confident, higher skilled, calmer and more optimistic.”

The refurbished building consists of seven classrooms, a carpentry workshop, fully-fitted training kitchen, gym, indoor soccer, meeting rooms and offices. The refurbishment was funded through the government’s Dormant Accounts fund and had support from volunteers, the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána, the Probation Service, Solas, and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

Those attending the event included former minister Jan O’Sullivan TD, Senator Kieran O’Donnell, Councillor Maria Byrne and Councillor Daniel Butler. Butler is a community worker and the metropolitan mayor of Limerick.

A barbecue was held after the launch.

For more information, contact:

Andrew O’Byrne on 085 853 0463 or at andyob@gmail.com

Elaine Slattery on 087 283 5390 or at ceimarcheim@gmail.com